Music

'Doom Days' Indeed for Bastille

Photo courtesy of the artist

On their third studio record, Doom Days, Bastille continue their slide into mainstream blandness.

Doom Days
Bastille

Virgin EMI

14 June 2019

At first pass, Doom Days – the third studio album by the British pop act Bastille – seems like just the right title for an album released in the year 2019. One need only take a look at any news headline at any given time to sense that Bastille might be tapping into the dread and gloom which permeates today's global politics. Admittedly, Bastille's past attempts at political reflection have come up quite short – especially on songs like Wild World's (2016) "The Currents": "I can't believe the scary points you make," frontman Dan Smith says to an anonymous demagogue. No one would ever confuse Bastille for a protest act, but that's not to say that – certain lyrical references aside – that Bastille should aspire to political music.

What makes Bad Blood, Bastille's 2013 smash debut, so compelling is its palpable sense of urgency, its insistence that everything hinges on a single crucial moment. That smacks of the "tonight is the night, and we only have tonight" brand of lyricism that John Mulaney famously roasted as "19-year-old horseshit". But Bastille turned the dial up on "tonight's the night", centering its lyrics and musical pacing on narratives not about a single night being important, but about the very stakes of the world's continued existence coming to a head at a key moment. Bad Blood even appeals to ancient myths, such as the fate of Daedalus' wax wings on "Icarus". That's a risky lyrical gambit, but with Bastille's knack for great singalong hooks and energetic electronic pop, the heightened reality of Smith's lyrics doesn't come across as exaggeration.

Since Bad Blood, Bastille's music hasn't exactly lost its urgency, but the zeal of that debut LP has since diminished. Excepting the Other People's Heartache mixtapes, where Bastille is at its most inventive, the main single and album releases have felt like competent but rote exercises in replicating what Bad Blood set out to do. Wild World, as I argued for this publication, finds Bastille playing it safe for its now considerable mainstream audience, smoothing out the edges of Bad Blood until all that's left is an emotive but comfy brand of pop. Bastille's subsequent major public success, in the form of the Marshmello collaborative single "Happier", further indicates the band's mainstream aspirations: its unremarkable, repetitive chorus hook and clichéd EDM synth riff are radio pop's equivalent of playing to the center.

Ultimately, Doom Days does the same. Whatever portents to which the LP's title alludes are vague and uncertain. What is present on the album is a collection of fine but been-there-done-that tunes, all of which indicate a drying up of the creative well. Little offends, but more importantly, little thrills. Album opener "Quarter Past Midnight" is both a showcase of Bastille's unique sound and a forecast of what's going to be repeated ad nauseam throughout the rest of Doom Days: layered quasi-choral vocals, Smith's unmatched ability to elongate syllables to extend a hook, and a deft mixture of radio pop and electronic music. On paper and superficially, Doom Days exhibits many of the same things that made Bad Blood so compelling, and execution-wise Bastille never misses the mark. But when what's being executed is a pop formula that's already proved its diminishing returns on Wild World, craftsmanship can't elevate overfamiliar aesthetic and production choices.

Doom Days' successful moments occur when Bastille alters their typical songwriting with slight changes in instrumentation and arrangement. The ballads are especially noteworthy here. "Divide", an atmospheric, piano-led tune, stands out despite its hopelessly vague call to action ("Why would we divide / When we could come together?"). "4AM" uses hummed and breathed vocals, accompanied by a simple electric guitar lead, to form a gentle yet lush backing to one of Smith's best lead vocal performances on the record. But it regrettably concludes with a generic programmed drumbeat which, despite raising the tempo, saps energy away from the otherwise tastefully spartan arrangement.

Throughout Doom Days, otherwise promising tracks like "4AM" are undercut by choices that one would expect from a much less interesting group than Bastille. "Million Pieces" begins promisingly with a bouncy synth line and one of the catchier choruses on the LP, but then the post-chorus is driven by one of those wordless synthetic vocals that have been used a million different ways in a million different electronic dance tunes – and even several Bastille songs.

Writing pop music is hard work. Bastille already proved their musical chops on Bad Blood and the Other People's Heartache mixtapes, yet with success comes further expectations. Were Doom Days the first album released by the band, it probably wouldn't have felt as stale as it does now in 2019. This music feels half-there not by some inherent feature of its composition or production, but rather because we know that Bastille has already done what Doom Days strives to achieve.

It's hard to say what Bastille could specifically do to alter its now familiar song playbook, but at the same time, the simple if broad "anything but this" feels accurate. On Doom Days Bastille falls into a sonic rut, but its best music gives us plenty of indication that this need not spell doom for what's to come for this still-young outfit.

4


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.